Individual prize winners at the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2007 deservedly gain great kudos and a significant career boost, but their employers also enjoy a large measure of reflected glory.
Banks, insurance companies and independent financial advisories have actively encouraged participation in this year's competition and, in many cases, have gone out of their way to provide entrants with support, advice and practical guidance on how to perform at their best in the successive rounds.
'If you want to win you need to be ready for a long journey and there's a lot of preparation involved,' said Susanna Cheung Lo Wai-ching, head of retail banking at HSBC. She said the bank had encouraged all eligible staff to enter and had emphasised that anyone taking part would benefit in two ways - from the challenge and from the chance to showcase their business knowledge and skills.
The bank familiarised staff with the format and requirements of the competition by holding an in-house contest. It then ran workshops in case writing and making oral presentations during which colleagues from the training department helped entrants fine tune their skills and sharpen their performance. Emphasis was placed on being able to present information and recommendations in a logical and systematic way, and selecting cases that clearly demonstrated the diverse aspects of financial planning.
'We advise them to choose a case which illustrates their ability to comprehensively analyse a customer's situation and recommend [tailored] solutions,' Ms Cheung said.
Overall, she felt the oral presentations in round two and beyond were the toughest part of the competition. The presentation required articulacy, precision and careful use of visual aids to impress the judges. It was important to have a professional and confident manner when answering their questions.
Ms Cheung said one key benefit of the competition was that it gave participants a chance to review and refine their day-to-day financial planning practices. The awards had also helped raise the profile of the industry.
'This is a great opportunity for individual winners to gain public recognition and, for the bank, it helps us motivate and reward some of our best-performing staff,' she said.
Michael Chan Yui-lung, vice-president of distribution in Hong Kong for Manulife (International), said there was no such thing as a model answer for the written submission in round one.
However, the company advised entrants to choose case studies they had worked on with 'heart and passion'. These should highlight important compliance issues and show how they were doing the best for the client.
Mr Chan said that one of the major challenges for any financial planner was winning the trust of the client. Only then would they feel comfortable discussing details of income, mortgage repayments, investment priorities and long-term goals. He said that the key to doing well in the later rounds of the competition was not just to mention this in theory, but to demonstrate it in practice.
Therefore, the company arranged frequent seminars in which sales agents shared with colleagues their experiences of building trust in specific cases.
Mr Chan also emphasised that proper training helped staff structure their thinking in a logical manner and prioritise the financial objectives of clients. He said that agents taking part in the awards had mentioned two specific challenges. One was setting aside sufficient time to prepare, when they might otherwise be meeting clients. The other was putting together the written submission.
'Salespeople don't like writing - they prefer talking,' he said. 'So, quite a number of participants say that writing up the case is a real challenge.'
Rosetta Fong Sut-sam, sales and marketing director for Convoy Financial Services, said her usual advice to participants was to make their written submissions comprehensive but brief. 'Skimming through some, I find they are too long or have too many graphs,' she said. 'The judges will have just a few minutes to assess each one and can see from just a few pages what someone knows.'
This year, Convoy had 56 entrants and ran two internal briefing sessions to explain the competition's rules and regulations. Four of last year's contestants shared their impressions and experiences, and most questions centred on the best type of case study to write up and the 'tactics' to employ.
'We remind them about the marking scheme and weighting, and to realise what the competition is looking for,' Ms Fong said. 'The judges will ask all sorts of questions on things not necessarily in the written plan.'
The company arranged a series of mock presentations before round two, overseen by a member of the senior management team. These were to help people get used to the environment and conquer their nerves. 'Facing judges is different from facing clients. You have just 30 minutes to answer everything and can't come back later,' Ms Fong said. 'Doing this also shows we value their participation in the competition.'